Harriet Tubman, the anti-slavery campaigner, is set to appear on the front of the $20 bill, becoming the first woman to be the face of a bill of US currency.
The US Treasury Department announced the news on Wednesdayafter a long, public and sometimes heated consultation period. The Treasury had reportedly considered letting Tubman bump founding father Alexander Hamilton, who has been on the $10 bill since 1928. Instead, she will take Andrew Jackson’s spot on the $20 bill.
“When I announced last June that a newly redesigned $10 note would feature a woman, I hoped to encourage a national conversation about women in our democracy. The response has been powerful,” US Treasury secretary Jack Lew said in a statement. “The decision to put Harriet Tubman on the new $20 was driven by thousands of responses we received from Americans young and old.”
Details of the redesign of the three bills – $5, $10 and $20 – were announced in a Medium post written by Lew.
The Federal Reserve chair, Janet Yellen, said: “Throughout American history, women have made important contributions to the free and democratic society we enjoy today. I welcome the decision by the Treasury Department to honor these achievements.”
Jackson is not disappearing from the $20 bill altogether. “The reverse of the new $20 will continue to feature the White House as well as an image of President Andrew Jackson,” Lew added.
Even before the US Treasury decided to put Tubman on the $20, she had won the people’s vote. A year ago, the not-for-profit group Women on 20s held a vote to choose a woman who could replace Jackson. Tubman won with 118,328 votes, beating out a Native American tribe leader, Wilma Mankiller, the former first lady Eleanor Roosevelt and the civil rights activist Rosa Parks.
Tubman, who was born into slavery, is best known for her role on the Underground Railroad. Making 19 trips over the course of 10 years, she helped free more than 300 slaves. She died in 1913, seven years before US women won the right to vote.
The $5 and $10 bills will also undergo some changes.
“When we started this conversation not quite a year ago, it wasn’t clear to me that millions of Americans were going to weigh in with their ideas,” Lew told CNBC. “We’re not just talking about one bill. We’re talking about the $5, the $10 and the $20. We’re not just talking about one picture on one bill. We’re talking about using the front and the back of the bill to tell an exciting set of stories.”
While the $5 bill will be changed to depict civil rights era leaders, the back of the $10 bill will now bear a mural-style depiction of the women’s suffrage movement. Originally, Lew hoped to replace Hamilton with Susan B Anthony, according to a memo obtained by the Wall Street Journal. Anthony will now appear on the back of the bill instead. Anthony previously appeared on a $1 coin.
First lady Martha Washington previously appeared on a special $1 certificate. The other woman to appear on a bill was Pocahontas, who appeared on the back of a $20 bill. Tubman will be the first woman to appear as the main figure on the front of a bill.
The Treasury hopes to unveil the newly redesigned bill by 2020, a year that will mark the 100th anniversary of the 19th amendment, which granted women the right to vote.
All about the Hamiltons
Lew changed his mind after the initial plan to take Hamilton off the $10 bill met with public resistance. Among those objecting the removal of the first US treasury secretary was Lin-Manuel Miranda, the author and star of the Broadway musical Hamilton.
After Lew attended the show last summer, Miranda tweeted that he had made his case. The two met again in March. “You’re going to be very happy,” Miranda said Lew told him at the time.
Ben Bernanke, the former Federal Reserve chair, also voiced his displeasure with the idea of replacing Hamilton.
“Hamilton’s demotion is intended to make room to honor a deserving woman on the face of our currency. That’s a fine idea, but it shouldn’t come at Hamilton’s expense,” he wrote last year.
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